Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 2017

Busy day, personally

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Saw a psychiatrist and got my Genesight report. A few interesting findings:  The only anti-depressant that I should avoid is Wellbutrin, only one I should take is Pristiq (which is now available as a generic). (The antidepressant is purely prophylactic. In my last move—the first time I had seriously to downsize—I not only was depressed but (until the antidepressant) but had anxiety attacks, which I am sorry to tell you, are quite unpleasant. My hope is that getting on an antidepressant ind advance will preclude anxiety attacks.)

Pristiq is son of Effexor. Effexor consists of such a substance that, when metabolized, produces substance beta, which has an antidepressant effect. Pristiq is essentially consists of substance beta. It’s a tablet with a thin rubbery outer coating that has in it a single small hole: voilà! time-release. The psychiatrist said he has some patients using the generic and it works fine.

Since Pristiq does not depend on a metabolizing pathway, it’s in the “green” part of the report for everyone: any metabolizing deficiencies are irrelevant: it’s pre-metabolized.

My folic acid conversion function is normal (the folates are essential in the neural-signaling system), but a guy I know had his folic acid conversion in the red zone, which meant taking folic acid supplements would be meaningless: the problem he has in converting the folic acid to usable form is not solved by giving him more to convert. So he now has a prescription for pre-converted folate (I’m starting to see a pattern). However, if you are in the amber zone—able to convert some folic acid to folate—I think a good idea would be upping the green leafy vegetables. (Tonight I am having red kale, a red leafy vegetable, with shallots, garlic, olive oil, and—get this—fig balsamic vinegar: Enzo’s Table has some specials.)

A really great documentary: Inside Job, narrated by Matt Damon. Available on Hulu, rentable on Amazon.

An interesting report from The Wife. I made this recipe by Julia Reed again, and did it right after a rewrite (in Paprika Recipe Manager) of the method:

Melt butter in the oil in a large deep skillet over high heat. Season chops with salt and pepper and add them, browning well, about 2 or 3 minutes a side, reducing the heat slightly if chops brown too quickly.

Remove chops to a platter and pour off most of the fat. [In fact, there was not much fat. – LG] Add green onions or shallots and cook over medium-high heat until softened, about 1 minute.

Add WINE and bring to a boil, scraping brown bits off the bottom.

Stir in the STOCK and return chops to the pan. Bring the sauce to a simmer, cover and cook until chops are tender, about 15 minutes.

Remove the chops to a warm platter; cover with foil to keep warm.

Raise the heat and boil pan juices to reduce by half, about 2 minutes.

Add CREAM and boil 2 minutes more, until sauce reduces a bit and thickens.

Remove from the heat and whisk in MUSTARD and the parsley, if using. Taste and add more mustard if desired. Immediately spoon sauce over the chops and serve.

That revision showed me more clearly the sequence of additions, and tonight it’s much better.


The “Raise the heat and boil pan juices to reduce by half, about 2 minutes.” is totally bogus. I must have gone 8 or 10 minutes, possibly more to reduce the volume by half.

I complained, as is my wont, to The Wife, who surely understands all that escapes my grasp. “Fear not,” she said. “It is a scam.”

As she explained, on-line recipe writers don’t want to write something like “Caramelize onions by stirring very frequently over medium heat for 40 mintues.”

Instead, they write “Caramelize onions by stirring very frequently over medium heat for 10 minutes.” They know it’s wrong as well as they know the sunk-cost fallacy (aka the Escalation of commitment) and as well as they know that if the recipe includes “Raise the heat and boil pan juices to reduce by half, about 15 minutes,” that half (or more) of their readers would not try the recipe. So, not to put too fine a point on it, they lie. They assume the reader will realize that the important point is “reduce by half,” not “2 minutes.”

And indeed, once I had the bit in my teeth, I reduced that sucker, regardless of time. And it’s very tasty. Indeed, when I tasted it, my immediate impression was, “This is an expensive-restaurant dish.” Really remarkably good. But change “2 minutes” in the above to “12 minutes.”

And, BTW, I found the 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard (instead of 1) tasted better to us.

Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2017 at 7:46 pm

Wee Scot, Klar Seifen, iKon OC, and Cavendish

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With this shave I finally found the iKon open-comb that impressed me with its comfort as well as its efficiency. I have three different iKon razors that have a comb guard: the Shavecraft Short Comb; a stainless with two baseplates, comb guard on one, bar guard on the other; and and older stainless with a comb guard.

I started with prep, as is my custom, using the Wee Scot and getting an extremely good lather from the small tub of Klar Seifen. As soon as I started shaving with this razor, I recognized it as the one I had used before. (I could have looked back through my SOTD posts, but that seemed cheating.) It is noticeably more comfortable than the Short Comb, which itself isn’t bad, and it is also quite efficient.

After three passes, I had a perfectly smooth face with no problems (i.e., no nicks), and a splash of Cavendish set me up for the day—a busy day, in fact. Probably little blogging today.

Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2017 at 8:55 am

Posted in Shaving

Maureen Dowd hits it out of the park

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Read her column today, which begins:

Donald Trump was promising to destroy a vile criminal cartel.

Unfortunately, not his own.

But one could be forgiven for mistaking the vicious tactics of the MS-13 gang, as described by the president in a Long Island speech on Friday, with those of the Trump White House.

“They don’t like shooting people because it’s too quick, it’s too fast,” Trump said, adding: “They like to knife them and cut them, and let them die slowly because that way, it’s more painful, and they enjoy watching that much more. These are animals.”

The president could have been describing his own sadistic assault on Jeff Sessions, “as flies to wanton boys,” as Shakespeare said. Trump turned Sessions — with all his backward views on gays, drugs and criminal justice — into an unlikely hero for lawmakers from both parties who began hailing him as a crown jewel of American jurisprudence.

In his speech, Trump encouraged police brutality and said he was “the big, big believer and admirer of the people in law enforcement, O.K.?” He said that he’s protecting the backs of law enforcement “100 percent.” Except for Sessions, Sally Yates, Preet Bharara and Robert Mueller.

As two people close to Trump told The Times’s Maggie Haberman when asked why he was tormenting Sessions instead of firing him: Because he can.

Six months in, Trump has pushed out a staggering number of top people, culminating with Reince Priebus. And in his paranoid, aggrieved isolation, he’s even thinking about nixing Steve Bannon, nemesis of the Mooch, and mulling firing the one who could get him fired, Mueller, and pardoning himself for possible charges.

Trump learned his technique of publicly criticizing and freely firing from  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2017 at 8:12 pm

10,000 Hours With Claude Shannon: How A Genius Thinks, Works, and Lives

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Jimmy Soni writes at Medium:

For the last five years, we lived with one of the most brilliant people on the planet.

Sort of.

See, we just published the biography of Dr. Claude Shannon. He’s the most important genius you’ve never heard of, a man whose intellect was on par with Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton.

We spent five years with him. It’s not an exaggeration to say that, during that period, we spent more time with the deceased Claude Shannon than we have with many of our living friends. He became something like the roommate in the spare bedroom of our minds, the guy who was always hanging around and occupying our head space.

Yes, we were the ones telling his story, but in telling it, he affected us, too. Geniuses have a unique way of engaging with the world, and if you spend enough time examining their habits, you discover the behaviors behind their brilliance. Whether or not we intended it to, understanding Claude Shannon’s life gave us lessons on how to better live our own.

That’s what follows in this essay. It’s the good stuff our roommate left behind.

Claude, Who?

His name may not ring a bell. Don’t worry, we didn’t know who he was either when we started.

So who was he?

Within engineering and mathematics circles, Shannon is a revered figure. Claude Shannon’s work in the 1930s and 1940s earned him the title of “father of the information age.” At the age of 21, he published what’s been called the most important master’s thesis of all time, explaining how binary switches could do logic. It laid the foundation for all future digital computers.

He wasn’t done. At the age of 32, he published “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” which has been called “the Magna Carta of the information age.” Shannon’s masterwork invented the bit, or the objective measurement of information, and explained how digital codes could allow us to compress and send any message with perfect accuracy.

But that’s not all he did.

Claude Shannon wasn’t just a brilliant theoretical mind — he was a remarkably fertile, fun, practical, and inventive one as well. There are plenty of mathematicians and engineers who write great papers. There are fewer of them who, like Shannon, are also jugglers, unicyclists, gadgeteers, first-rate chess players, codebreakers, expert stock-pickers, and amateur poets.

He worked on the top-secret transatlantic phone line connecting FDR and Winston Churchill during World War II and co-built what was arguably the world’s first wearable computer. He learned to fly airplanes and played the jazz clarinet. He rigged up a false wall in his house that could rotate with the press of a button, and he once built a gadget whose only purpose when it was turned on was to open up, release a mechanical hand, and turn itself off. Oh, and he once had a photo spread in Vogue magazine.

Think of him as a cross between Albert Einstein and the Dos Equis guy.

Asking the questions he probably wouldn’t

We aren’t mathematicians or engineers; we write books and speeches, not code. That meant we had a steep learning curve in making sense of his work.

But that was sort of the point: We had to learn everything from scratch and make it sensible on the page. Had we approached this book as experts, we might have been tempted to go deeper and deeper into the details of Shannon’s theorems, diagrams, and proofs.

But because we approached this book as learners, we were particularly interested in a broader, more generalist set of questions: how does a mind like Claude Shannon’s work? What shapes a mind like that? What does a mind like that do for fun? What can we take from it to be just a bit more brilliant in our own pursuits, whatever they happen to be?

Claude Shannon wasn’t especially interested in offering direct answers to questions like those. If he were alive to read this piece, he’d probably laugh at us. His mind was a heat-seeking missile targeting problems. What got him up in the morning was dissecting how things worked, not digressions into creativity and productivity.

No matter how many people came to him for advice, he never felt that he was in the advice-giving business. During his days as a professor, he was particularly nervous about the mentoring aspect of the job. “I can’t be an advisor,” he once protested. “I can’t give advice to anybody. I don’t have the right to advise.”

As usual, though, Shannon was being excessively modest. He can teach us a lot, even if he approached the whole business of teaching reluctantly and indirectly. To that end, we’ve distilled what we’ve learned from him over these last few years into this piece. It isn’t a comprehensive list by any means, but it does begin, we hope, to reveal what this unknown genius can teach the rest of us about thinking — and living.

12 Lessons Learned, Over Five Years, Writing One Book

1) Cull your inputs.

We all know how the constant distractions of social media and buzzing smartphones destroy focus and productivity. We also know that the problem is considerably more difficult than it was in mid-20th-century America (and yes, we suppose Claude Shannon bears some inadvertent blame for this).

But distractions are a permanent feature of life, in any era, and Shannon shows us that shutting them out isn’t just a matter of achieving random bursts of focus. It’s about consciously designing one’s life and work habits to minimize them.

For one, Shannon didn’t allow himself to get caught up in clearing out his inbox. Letters he didn’t want to respond to went into a bin labeled “Letters I’ve Procrastinated On For Too Long.” In fact, we pored over Shannon’s correspondence at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, which keeps his papers on file — and we found far more incoming letters than outgoing ones. All of that time saved was more time to plow back into research and tinkering.

Inbox zero, be damned.

Shannon extended the same attitude to his time in the office, where his colleagues regularly expected to find his door closed (a rarity in Bell Labs’ generally open-door culture). None of Shannon’s colleagues, to our knowledge, remembered him as rude or unfriendly; but they do remember him as someone who valued his privacy and quiet time for thinking. One colleague remembered, “You would knock on the door and he would talk to you, but otherwise, he kept to himself.”

On the other hand, colleagues who came to Shannon with bold new ideas or fascinating engineering puzzles remembered hours of productive conversations. That’s just to say that Shannon, as in so much else, was deliberate about how he invested his time: in stimulating ideas, not in small talk. Even for those of us who are more extraverted than Shannon was (and, to be honest, that’s nearly all of us), there’s something to learn from how deliberately and consistently he turned his work hours into a distraction-free zone.

2) Big picture first. Details later.

In his mathematical work, Shannon had a quality of leaping right to the central insight and leaving the details to be filled in later. As he once explained it, “I think I’m more visual than symbolic. I try to get a feeling of what’s going on. Equations come later.” It was as if he saw solutions before he could explain why they were correct.

As his student Bob Gallager recalled, “He had a weird insight. He could see through things. He would say, ‘Something like this should be true’…and he was usually right…You can’t develop an entire field out of whole cloth if you don’t have superb intuition.”

Occasionally, this got Shannon in trouble — academic mathematicians sometimes accused him of being insufficiently rigorous in his work. Usually, though, their critiques were misguided. “In reality,” said the mathematician Solomon Golomb, “Shannon had almost unfailing instinct for what was actually true.” If the details of the journey needed filling in, the destination was almost always correct.

Most of us, of course, aren’t geniuses, and most of us don’t have Shannon-level intuition. So is there anything to learn from him here? We think there is: even if our intuitions don’t lead us to develop an entirely new field like information theory, they often have a wisdom that we can choose to tune into or to shut up.

Worrying about missing details and intermediate steps is a sure way to shut our intuitions up, and to miss out on some of our best shots at creative breakthroughs. Expecting our big ideas to unfold logically from premise to conclusion is a misunderstanding of the way creativity usually works in practice. As the writer Rita Mae Brown put it, “Intuition is a suspension of logic due to impatience.”

It’s one thing to clean up and fill in the details after the fact. It’s another thing to mistake the neat-and-tidy way we present our ideas to others, and others present their ideas to us — in an article, a slideshow, or a talk — for the messy process of getting to those ideas. Waiting for a neat-and-tidy breakthrough usually means waiting for a train that’s never arriving.

3) Don’t just find a mentor. Allow yourself to be mentored.

A lot of articles like this preach the value of mentorship, and we don’t want to belabor the point. Of course mentors matter. But a lot of writing about mentorship tends to treat a mentor as something you acquire: find the right smart, successful person to back your career, and you’re all set.

It’s not that simple. Making the most of mentorship doesn’t just require the confidence to approach someone whose guidance can make a difference in your development. It requires the humility to take that guidance to heart, even when it’s uncomfortable, challenging, or counterintuitive. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Shannon’s most pivotal mentor was probably his graduate school advisor at MIT, Vannevar Bush, who went on to coordinate the American scientific effort in WWII and became the first presidential science advisor. Bush recognized Shannon’s genius, but he also did what mentors are supposed to do — he pushed Shannon out of his comfort zone in some productive ways.

For instance, after the success of Shannon’s master’s thesis, Bush urged Shannon to write his PhD dissertation on theoretical genetics, a subject Shannon had to pick up from scratch and that was far afield from the engineering and mathematics he had spent years working on. That Bush pushed Shannon to do so testifies to his trust in his protege’s ability to rise to the challenge; that Shannon agrees testifies to his willingness to stretch himself.

There’s a whole set of possible responses Shannon might have had to that moment (“Genetics, huh?”). But Bush knew what he was doing, and Shannon was humble enough to trust his judgment and let himself be mentored.

Accepting real mentorship is, in part, an act of humility: The best of it comes when you’re actually willing to trust that mentor sees something you don’t see. There’s a reason, after all, that you sought them out in the first place. Be humble enough to listen.

4)  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2017 at 6:46 pm

The polygamous town facing genetic disaster

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Zaria Gorvett reports for the BBC:

“We are to gird up our loins and fulfil this, just as we would any other duty…” said Brigham Young, who led the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), or Mormons, back in the mid-19th Century. It was a sweltering summer’s day in Provo City, Utah and as he spoke, high winds swirled dust around him.

The holy task Young was speaking of was, of course, polygyny, where one man takes many wives (also known by the gender neutral term polygamy). He was a passionate believer in the practice, which he announced as the official line of the church a few years earlier. Now he was set to work reassuring his flock that marrying multiple women was the right thing to do.

He liked to lead by example. Though Young began his adult life as a devoted spouse to a single wife, by the time he died his family had swelled to 55 wives and 59 children.

Fast-forward to 1990, a century after polygyny was abandoned, and the upshot was only just beginning to emerge. In an office several hundred miles from where Young gave his speech, a 10-year-old boy was presented to Theodore Tarby, a doctor specialising in rare childhood diseases.

The boy had unusual facial features, including a prominent forehead, low-set ears, widely spaced eyes and a small jaw. He was also severely physically and mentally disabled.

After performing all the usual tests, Tarby was stumped. He had never seen a case like it. Eventually he sent a urine sample to a lab that specialises in detecting rare diseases. They diagnosed “fumarase deficiency”, an inherited disorder of the metabolism. With just 13 cases known to medical science (translating into odds of one in 400 million), it was rare indeed. It looked like a case of plain bad luck.

But there was a twist. It turned out his sister, whom the couple believed was suffering from cerebral palsy, had it too. In fact, together with colleagues from the Barrow Neurological Institute, soon Tarby had diagnosed a total of eight new cases, in children ranging from 20 months to 12 years old.

In every case, the child had the same distinctive facial features, the same delayed development – most couldn’t sit up, let alone walk – and, crucially, they were from the same region on the Arizona-Utah border, known as Short Creek.

Even more intriguingly, this region is polygynous. In this small, isolated community of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), the likelihood of being born with fumarase deficiency is over a million times above the global average.

“When I moved to Arizona that’s when I realised that my colleagues here were probably the most familiar I’d ever met with this disease,” says Vinodh Narayanan, a neurologist at the Translational Genomics Research Institute, Arizona, who has treated several patients with fumarase deficiency.

What’s going on?

The disease is caused by a hiccup in the process that provides energy to our cells. In particular, it’s caused by low levels of an enzyme – fumarase – that helps to drive it. Since it was perfected billions of years ago, the enzyme has become a staple of every living thing on the planet. It’s so important, today the instructions for making it are remarkably similar across all species, from owls to orchids.

For those who inherit a faulty version, the consequences are tragic. Though our brains account for just 2% of the body’s total weight, they are ravenously hungry – using up around 20% of its energy supply. Consequently, metabolic disorders such a fumarase deficiency are particularly devastating to the organ. “It results in structural abnormalities and a syndrome including seizures and delayed development,” says Narayanan.

Faith Bistline has five cousins with the disease, who she used to look after until she left the FLDS in 2011. “They are completely physically and mentally disabled,” she says. The oldest started learning to walk when he was two years old, but stopped after a long bout of seizures. Now that cousin is in his 30s and not even able to crawl.

In fact, only one of her cousins can walk. “She can also make some vocalisations and sometimes you can understand a little bit of what she’s saying, but I wouldn’t call it speaking,” she says. They all have feeding tubes and need care 24 hours a day.

Fumarase deficiency is rare because it’s recessive – it only develops if a person inherits two faulty copies of the gene, one from each parent. To get to grips with why it’s plaguing Short Creek, first we need to back to the mid-19th Century.

Brigham Young was a busy man. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2017 at 5:14 pm

Cool animated GIFs

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Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2017 at 10:08 am

Posted in Software

The ugly tactics Wall Street uses to intimidate and control the press

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Heidi N. Moore, who has been an editor, columnist and reporter for publications including the Guardian U.S. and the Wall Street Journal, writes in the Washington Post:

When Anthony Scaramucci took over as White House communications director, prompting the resignation of press secretary Sean Spicer, the initial reaction from Washington journalists was warily optimistic. Where Spicer was aggressive and hostile, Scaramucci would be “smooth” and affable. He even blew a kiss to end his first press briefing. These looked like signs of a thaw. After all, officials and reporters in Washington may still joke around after a bad story or a slight; the hostility is often for show. Politics is communal and built on co-dependency.

Finance is different. It is individualist and zero-sum. As a reporter and editor covering Wall Street for 18 years, I studied the industry’s aggressive approach toward the press: Financiers, and the multibillion-dollar companies they work for, are friendly and charming as long as you see things their way, and they do everything they can to win reporters over. But when reporters don’t buy their line, the Wall Street answer is to get intransigent journalists removed from stories.

Scaramucci’s vulgar phone call to the New Yorker this past week was far more typical than his genteel first briefing was. If the Trump administration’s approach to the media was alarming before, importing the attitudes and practices Scaramucci learned in New York will only make things worse.

Scaramucci, who ran a relatively modest firm in the enormous world of hedge funds, has proved himself adept at this style. President Trump reportedly liked that Scaramucci’s pushback about an inaccurate CNN story — complete with rumored threat of legal action — led to the departures of three veteran investigative journalists. Scaramucci pointedly called on a CNN reporter at his first briefing and a few days later said, on a hot microphone, that network boss Jeff Zucker “helped me get the job by hitting those guys,” referring to the unemployed reporters. To Trump, the fact that Scaramucci kneecapped three journalists in one swoop surely made him the kind of press guy he was looking for: effective in eliminating enemies.

There’s every reason to believe that the White House team sees this as a model: It will not worry about the accuracy of what is published, only whether the tone is Trump-friendly. Of his new job, Scaramucci says, “It is a client service business, and [Trump] is my client.” Wall Street’s methods of fighting negative coverage are more extensive, brutal and personal than Washington’s. The reigning philosophy is: “I can win only if you lose.”

As a reporter at the Wall Street Journal during the financial crisis, I was boggled by the lengths to which hedge funds and banks would go to kill a story.

When a negative report was in the works, company representatives often called up the journalist writing it and tried to ingratiate themselves with a charming introduction and some light chitchat. The point was to humanize the people at the firm so that journalists would feel guilty reporting negatively about it. (This almost never worked.) Maybe they’d invite the journalist to an outing — a bank-sponsored tennis game, a classical music concert — or a party held by the firm to get the journalist “in the fold.” When a piece was in process, they’d follow up daily, trying to get a sense of who the journalist’s sources were and the direction of the story. The key at this point was to keep their enemies close.

For example, when I was reporting on an executive coup at Morgan Stanley, the bank’s representatives were in touch with me more often than I spoke to my own mother. “Why would your publication waste time on a story like this?” they’d ask. “It’s all going to blow over.”

My favorite of their techniques, used by two major investment houses, was to flatly deny a story that I knew was accurate. When I offered to call my sources to reconfirm, the response I received was: “That’s it? That’s your negotiation?” As a journalist, I didn’t see the truth as subject to negotiation. But Wall Street did; it’s all about what you can get.

When charm didn’t work, I saw or heard about firms wheedling, pleading, threatening, calling editors and even contacting media executives. Insults and obscenities were common. One troubled hedge fund’s foul-mouthed manager called me every day for a week with some new litany of abuse.

Other companies tried to co-opt aggressive reporters by offering them lucrative jobs (financial journalists cannot report on companies to which they have ties, including potential job offers — at the Wall Street Journal, we weren’t even allowed to be friends on Facebook with PR people). As I was reporting one critical story about a hedge fund, it had a friendly PR firm dangle opportunities in front of me. I had no interest, but I told my editor and handed the story to another reporter nonetheless. Some journalists took those jobs, working for companies they once covered. That’s the kind of trap that former Wall Street Journal reporter Jay Solomon apparently fell into; he was fired last month for allegedly trying to broker arms deals between his sources to strengthen the relationships.

Another company, alarmed at my front-page story about the impending failure of a multibillion-dollar merger,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2017 at 8:27 am

Being rich wrecks your soul. We used to know that.

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Charles Mathewes, the Carolyn M. Barbour Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, and Evan Sandsmark, a PhD student in Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, write in the Washington Post:

With a billionaire real estate tycoon occupying America’s highest office, the effects of riches upon the soul are a reasonable concern for all of us little guys. After all, one incredibly wealthy soul currently holds our country in his hands. According to an apocryphal exchange between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, the only difference between the rich and the rest of us is that they have more money. But is that the only difference?

We didn’t used to think so. We used to think that having vast sums of money was bad and in particular bad for you — that it harmed your character, warping your behavior and corrupting your soul. We thought the rich were different, and different for the worse.

Today, however, we seem less confident of this. We seem to view wealth as simply good or neutral, and chalk up the failures of individual wealthy people to their own personal flaws, not their riches. Those who are rich, we seem to think, are not in any more moral danger than the rest of us. Compare how old movies preached the folk wisdom of wealth’s morally calamitous effects to how contemporary movies portray wealth: For example, the villainous Mr. Potter from “It’s A Wonderful Life” to the heroic Tony Stark (that is, Iron Man) in the Avengers films.

The idea that wealth is morally perilous has an impressive philosophical and religious pedigree. Ancient Stoic philosophers railed against greed and luxury, and Roman historians such as Tacitus lay many of the empire’s struggles at the feet of imperial avarice. Confucius lived an austere life. The Buddha famously left his opulent palace behind. And Jesus didn’t exactly go easy on the rich, either — think camels and needles, for starters.

The point is not necessarily that wealth is intrinsically and everywhere evil, but that it is dangerous — that it should be eyed with caution and suspicion, and definitely not pursued as an end in itself; that great riches pose great risks to their owners; and that societies are right to stigmatize the storing up of untold wealth. That’s why Aristotle, for instance, argued that wealth should be sought only for the sake of living virtuously — to manage a household, say, or to participate in the life of the polis. Here wealth is useful but not inherently good; indeed, Aristotle specifically warned that the accumulation of wealth for its own sake corrupts virtue instead of enabling it. For Hindus, working hard to earn money is a duty (dharma), but only when done through honest means and used for good ends. The function of money is not to satiate greed but to support oneself and one’s family. The Koran, too, warns against hoarding money and enjoins Muslims to disperse it to the needy.

Some contemporary voices join this ancient chorus, perhaps none more enthusiastically than Pope Francis. He’s proclaimed that unless wealth is used for the good of society, and above all for the good of the poor, it is an instrument “of corruption and death.” And Francis lives what he teaches: Despite access to some of the sweetest real estate imaginable — the palatial papal apartments are the sort of thing that President Trump’s gold-plated extravagance is a parody of — the pope bunks in a small suite in what is effectively the Vatican’s hostel. In his official state visit to Washington, he pulled up to the White House in a Fiat so sensible that a denizen of Northwest D.C. would be almost embarrassed to drive it. When Francis entered the Jesuit order 59 years ago, he took a vow of poverty, and he’s kept it.

According to many philosophies and faiths, then, wealth should serve only as a steppingstone to some further good and is always fraught with moral danger. We all used to recognize this; it was a commonplace. And this intuition, shared by various cultures across history, stands on firm empirical ground.

Over the past few years, a pile of studies from the behavioral sciences has appeared, and they all say, more or less, “Being rich is really bad for you.” Wealth, it turns out, leads to behavioral and psychological maladies. The rich act and think in misdirected ways.

When it comes to a broad range of vices, the rich outperform everybody else. They are much more likely than the rest of humanity to shopliftand cheat , for example, and they are more apt to be adulterers and to drink a great deal . They are even more likely to take candy that is meant for children. So whatever you think about the moral nastiness of the rich, take that, multiply it by the number of Mercedes and Lexuses that cut you off, and you’re still short of the mark. In fact, those Mercedes and Lexuses are more likely to cut you off than Hondas or Fords: Studies have shown that people who drive expensive cars are more prone to run stop signs and cut off other motorists .

The rich are the worst tax evaders, and, as The Washington Post has detailed, they are hiding vast sums from public scrutiny in secret overseas bank accounts.

They also give proportionally less to charity — not surprising, since they exhibit significantly less compassion and empathy toward suffering people. Studies also find that members of the upper class are worse than ordinary folks at “reading” people’ s emotions and are far more likely to be disengaged from the people with whom they are interacting — instead absorbed in doodling, checking their phones or what have you. Some studies go even further, suggesting that rich people, especially stockbrokers and their ilk (such as venture capitalists, whom we once called “robber barons”), are more competitive, impulsive and reckless than medically diagnosed psychopaths. And by the way, those vices do not make them better entrepreneurs; they just have Mommy and Daddy’s bank accounts (in New York or the Cayman Islands) to fall back on when they fail.

Indeed, luxuries may numb you to other people. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2017 at 7:42 am

Rising sea levels meet seaside growth in Tampa Bay

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Climate change cannot be accommodated by cutting it dead. Fascinating article in the Washington Post by Darryl Fears. Be sure to watch the 2-minute video on the Salvador Dali Museum’s impressive hurricane-resistant construction.

Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2017 at 2:32 pm

Very interesting development: Democrats pivot to offering ObamaCare improvements

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Mike Lillis reports in The Hill:

House Democrats are poised to advance a flood of proposals designed to address the problems dogging President Obama’s signature healthcare law –– a move that puts pressure on Republican and Democratic leaders alike.

The strategy marks a pivot for the Democrats, as party leaders have throughout the year discouraged members from offering improvements to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), fearing they would highlight problems with the law and divert attention from the Republicans’ months-long struggle to repeal and replace it.

But rank-and-file Democrats are getting restless, with some saying they can no longer tell constituents they oppose the Republicans’ repeal bills without offering solutions of their own.

“When I go back to the district, they want to know what you’re going to do,” said Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.).

“Resisting is no longer just enough, they want to see what your plan is.”

Following the early-morning failure of the Senate Republicans’ ObamaCare repeal bill on Friday, the Democrats –– leaders and rank-and-file members alike –– ramped up the pressure on GOP leaders to reach across the aisle and work on bipartisan ACA fixes.

“We can go right to the committees and have a discussion on how we keep America healthy,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters in the Capitol.

The bipartisan approach has been floated by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), but House GOP leaders don’t appear ready to move beyond their repeal effort. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Friday urged Senate Republicans not to abandon the fight.

“I am disappointed and frustrated, but we should not give up,” Ryan said in a statement. “I encourage the Senate to continue working toward a real solution that keeps our promise.”

The entrenched position of Ryan and House Republicans presents a strategic dilemma for Democratic leaders, who have said they’ll come to the table with specific ACA fixes only if the Republicans discard their insistence on repeal.

Pelosi and other top Democrats have hailed a series of ACA reforms recently proposed by a small group of centrist New Democrats and conservative-leaning Blue Dogs, but they’ve stopped short of endorsing the package, hoping to keep the pressure on Republicans and highlight the GOP’s struggles as the 2018 elections grow closer.

“We have stood ready with ideas and thoughts about how we can mend or improve the Affordable Care Act,” Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Friday. “So it is really incumbent upon them to come join us and bring us to the table.”

But a growing chorus of Democrats say it’s time to take a more proactive approach and unite behind specific proposals.

“I think the time is now,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). “People are ready to hear about how much is working in the ACA … [and also] to say how we could fix it.”

On Thursday, Larson banded with Reps. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) and Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) to introduce legislation that would allow people aged 50-64 to buy-in to Medicare –– a proposal designed to help a group that’s been hit disproportionately by rising out-of-pocket costs under the ACA.

And the legislative dam appears ready to break.

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is poised to introduce a series of ACA reforms as early as Friday, according to Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.).

And leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) met this week to lay the groundwork for their own package of ACA fixes. They’re reaching out to the New Democrats in search of places the groups share common ground, said CPC Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

“Yeah, it is time,” Grijalva said.

Adding to the pressure, almost 90 Democrats endorsed four specific reforms –– based on the proposals from the New Democrats and Blue Dogs –– designed to prop up ObamaCare’s struggling individual markets. The lawmakers penned a letter to Ryan on Tuesday urging the Speaker to take them up, but the message was also intended for their own leaders.

“A lot of us are pushing our leadership to say, ‘Hey look, let’s sit down and address this,’” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), who helped spearhead the letter with Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.).

Pelosi was ”supportive” of the letter, Welch said, “but she wasn’t encouraging us and I think it surprised her, frankly, that there were so many Democrats who put their name on [it].”

“You’re seeing a tremendous amount of urgency among rank-and-file members to make concrete progress and get out of this blame game,” Welch said. “And a lot of us are willing to put aside what our long-term goal is to try to achieve some short-term progress.”

Toward that end, roughly 40 House members from both parties have gathered behind closed doors in recent weeks in search of agreement on ACA reforms, particularly those focused on the individual markets. The meetings were organized by the so-called Solutions Caucus, led by Reps. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.).

“Unless we’re talking together, concretely, about improvements we’re not going to get anywhere,” said Welch, who attended the meetings. . .

Continue reading.

If this works, it could be a win for Republicans, for Democrats, for Congress, for the Trump administration, and for the American people. Godspeed, say I.

Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2017 at 2:23 pm

Post-Fascist Europe Tells Us Exactly How to Defend Our Democracy

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Timothy Snyder writes in Yes! magazine:

Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are 20 lessons from the 20th century, adapted to the circumstances of today.

1. Do not obey in advance.

Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

2. Defend an institution.

Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

3. Recall professional ethics.

When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.

4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words.

Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.

When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.

6. Be kind to our language.

Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom. Read.) What to read? Perhaps The Power of the Powerless by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.

7. Stand out. Someone has to.

It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.

8. Believe in truth.

To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

9. Investigate.

Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Learn about sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.

10. Practice corporeal politics.

Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.

11. Make eye contact and small talk.

This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

12. Take responsibility for the face of the world.

Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

13. Hinder the one-party state.

The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.

14. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2017 at 12:25 pm

100,000 Pages Of Chemical Industry Secrets Gathered Dust In An Oregon Barn For Decades — Until Now

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Sharon Lerner reports in The Intercept:

FOR DECADES, SOME of the dirtiest, darkest secrets of the chemical industry have been kept in Carol Van Strum’s barn. Creaky, damp, and prowled by the occasional black bear, the listing, 80-year-old structure in rural Oregon housed more than 100,000 pages of documents obtained through legal discovery in lawsuits against Dow, Monsanto, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Forest Service, the Air Force, and pulp and paper companies, among others.

As of today, those documents and others that have been collected by environmental activists will be publicly available through a project called the Poison Papers. Together, the library contains more than 200,000 pages of information and “lays out a 40-year history of deceit and collusion involving the chemical industry and the regulatory agencies that were supposed to be protecting human health and the environment,” said Peter von Stackelberg, a journalist who along with the Center for Media and Democracy and the Bioscience Resource Project helped put the collection online.

Van Strum didn’t set out to be the repository for the people’s pushback against the chemical industry. She moved to a house in the Siuslaw National Forest in 1974 to live a simple life. But soon after she arrived, she realized the Forest Service was spraying her area with an herbicide called 2,4,5-T — on one occasion, directly dousing her four children with it as they fished by the river.

The chemical was one of two active ingredients in Agent Orange, which the U.S. military had stopped using in Vietnam after public outcry about the fact that it caused cancer, birth defects, and serious harms to people, animals, and the environment. But in the U.S., the Forest Service continued to use both 2,4,5-T and the other herbicide in Agent Orange, 2,4-D, to kill weeds. (Timber was — and in some places still is — harvested from the national forest and sold.) Between 1972 and 1977, the Forest Service sprayed 20,000 pounds of 2,4,5-T in the 1,600-square-mile area that included Van Strum’s house and the nearby town of Alsea.

As in Vietnam, the chemicals hurt people and animals in Oregon, as well as the plants that were their target. Immediately after they were sprayed, Van Strum’s children developed nosebleeds, bloody diarrhea, and headaches, and many of their neighbors fell sick, too. Several women who lived in the area had miscarriages shortly after incidents of spraying. Locals described finding animals that had died or had bizarre deformities — ducks with backward-facing feet, birds with misshapen beaks, and blinded elk; cats and dogs that had been exposed began bleeding from their eyes and ears. At a community meeting, residents decided to write to the Forest Service detailing the effects of the spraying they had witnessed.

“We thought that if they knew what had happened to us, they wouldn’t do it anymore,” Van Strum said recently, before erupting into one of the many bursts of laughter that punctuate her conversation. We were sitting not far from the river where her children played more than 40 years ago, and her property remained much as it was back when the Forest Service first sprayed them with the herbicide. A mountain covered with alder and maple trees rose up across from her home, just as it did then, and the same monkey puzzle tree that was there when she moved in still shaded her dirt driveway.

But Van Strum, now 76, is much changed from the young woman who politely asked that the federal agency stop spraying many years ago. After the Forest Service refused their request to stop using the herbicides, she and her neighbors filed a suit that led to a temporary ban on 2,4,5-T in their area in 1977 and, ultimately, to a total stop to the use of the chemical in 1983.

For Van Strum, the suit was also the beginning of lifetime of battling the chemical industry. The lawyer who had taken their case offered a reduced fee in exchange for Van Strum’s unpaid research assistance. And she found she had a knack for poring over and parsing documents and keeping track of huge volumes of information. Van Strum provided guidance to others filing suit over spraying in national forests and helped filed another case that pointed out that the EPA’s registration of 2,4-D and other pesticides was based on fraudulent data from a company called Industrial Bio-Test Laboratories. That case led to a decision, in 1983, to stop all aerial herbicide spraying by the Forest Service.

“We didn’t think of ourselves as environmentalists, that wasn’t even a word back then,” Van Strum said. “We just didn’t want to be poisoned.”

Still, Van Strum soon found herself helping with a string of suits filed by people who had been hurt by pesticides and other chemicals. “People would call up and say, ‘Do you have such and such?’ And I’d go clawing through my boxes,” said Van Strum, who often wound up acquiring new documents through these requests — and storing those, too, in her barn.

Along the way, she amassed disturbing evidence about the dangers of industrial chemicals — and the practices of the companies that make them. Twodocuments, for instance, detailed experiments that Dow contracted a University of Pennsylvania dermatologist to conduct on prisoners in the 1960s to show the effects of TCDD, a particularly toxic contaminant found in 2,4,5-T. Another document, from 1985, showed that Monsanto had sold a chemical that was tainted with TCDD to the makers of Lysol, who, apparently unaware of its toxicity, used it as an ingredient in their disinfectant spray for 23 years. Yet another, from 1990, detailed the EPA policy of allowing the use of hazardous waste as inert ingredients in pesticides and other products under certain circumstances.

There were limits to what Van Strum could prove through her persistent data collection. The EPA had undertaken a study of the relationship between herbicide exposure and miscarriages and had taken tissue samples from water, animals, a miscarried fetus, and a baby born without a brain in the area. The EPA never released the full results of the “Alsea study,” as it was called, and insisted it had lost many of them. But a lab chemist provided Van Strum with what he said was the analysis of the test results he had been hired to do for the EPA, which showed the samples from water, various animals, and “products of conception” were significantly contaminated with TCDD.

When confronted, the EPA claimed there had been a mix-up and that the samples were from another area. Van Strum filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the results and, for years, battled in court to get to the bottom of what happened. Though the EPA provided more than 34,000 pages in response to her request (which Van Strum carefully numbered and stored in her barn), the agency never released all the results of the study or fully explained what had happened to them or where the contaminated samples had been taken. And eventually, Van Strum gave up. The EPA declined to comment for this story. . .

Continue reading.

And read the related articles listed at the bottom of the article at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2017 at 11:21 am

Time is running out on American democracy, historian says

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Kali Holloway writes at AlterNet:

Timothy Snyder, a Yale scholar and an authority on European political history, has spent decades studying the rise of fascist movements. With the ascension of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, Snyder sees echoes from history, and warns that the time to save America from autocracy is in short supply.

“I think things have tightened up very fast; we have at most a year to defend the republic, perhaps less,” Snyder stated in an interview with German outlet Süddeutsche Zeitung. “What happens in the next few weeks is very important.”

Snyder, whose multiple books include On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, points out that Americans must dispense with wishful thinking about institutions helping to curb Trump’s power. In fact, that misguided notion is precisely what landed us in this situation.

“The story that Americans have told themselves from the moment he declared his candidacy for president, was that one institution or another would defeat him or at least change his behavior—he won’t get the nomination; if he gets the nomination, he will be a normal Republican; he will get defeated in the general election; if he wins, the presidency will mature him (that was what Obama said),” Snyder recounts. “I never thought any of that was true. He doesn’t seem to care about the institutions and the laws except insofar as they appear as barriers to the goal of permanent kleptocratic authoritarianism and immediate personal gratification. It is all about him all of time, it is not about the citizens and our political traditions.”

In the days after the election, Snyder penned a must-read Slate article that recalled historical markers from Hitler’s rise to reveal the similar path of Trump’s advance. The historian had hoped to cajole Americans out of complacency, to urge them to “find their bearings,” to remind them none of this is normal and that democracy is in the crosshairs.

“The temptation in a new situation is to imagine that nothing has changed,” Snyder says. “That is a choice that has political consequences: self-delusion leads to half-conscious anticipatory obedience and then to regime change… Most Americans are exceptionalists; we think we live outside of history. Americans tend to think: ‘We have freedom because we love freedom, we love freedom because we are free.’ It is a bit circular and doesn’t acknowledge the historical structures that can favor or weaken democratic republics. We don’t realize how similar our predicaments are to those of other people.”

“I wanted to remind my fellow Americans that intelligent people, not so different from ourselves, have experienced the collapse of a republic before. It is one example among many. Republics, like other forms of government, exist in history and can rise and fall.”

Snyder points to the desperate need to shake off historical amnesia as the Trump administration looks to authoritarian regimes as models. “[O]ne reason why we cannot forget the 1930s is that the presidential administration is clearly thinking about them, but in a positive sense,” Snyder stated. “They seem to be after a kind of redo of the 1930s with Roosevelt where the Americans take a different course—where we don’t build a welfare state and don’t intervene in Europe to stop fascism. Lindbergh instead of FDR. That is their notion. Something went wrong with Roosevelt and now they want to go back and reverse it.”

“During the campaign [Trump] used the slogan ‘America First’ and then was informed that this was the name of a movement that tried to prevent the United States from fighting Nazi Germany and was associated with nativists and white supremacists. He claimed then not to have known that. But in the inaugural address he made ‘America First’ his central theme, and now he can’t say that he doesn’t know what it means. And of course Bannon knows what it means. America First is precisely the conjuration of this alternative America of the 1930s where Charles Lindbergh is the hero. This inaugural address reeked of the 1930s.”

Snyder urges immediate resistance to the administration’s targeting of Muslims, immigrants, blacks and LGBT people, because if it can “slice off one group, it can do the same to others.” He says protest and pushback should continue with regularity.

“The Constitution is worth saving, the rule of law is worth saving, democracy is worth saving, but these things can and will be lost if everyone waits around for someone else.”

He also notes that the speed with which the Trump team has worked to hammer home its agenda is a strategy designed to cause fatigue and depression. The key is not to grow tired or become resigned. In particular, he cautions against succumbing to Trump’s attempts to paint all those who reject his agenda as un-American.

“The idea is to marginalize the people who actually represent the core values of the republic,” says Snyder. “The point is to bring down the republic. You can disagree with [protesters], but once you say they have no right to protest or start lying about them, you are in effect saying: ‘We want a regime where this is not possible anymore.’ When the president says that, it means that the executive branch is engaged in regime change towards an authoritarian regime without the rule of law. You are getting people used to this transition, you are inviting them into the process by asking them to have contempt for their fellow citizens who are defending the republic. You are also seducing people into a world of permanent internet lying and away from their own experiences with other people. Getting out to protest, this is something real and I would say something patriotic. Part of the new authoritarianism is to get people to prefer fiction and inaction to reality and action. People sit in their chairs, read the tweet and repeat the clichés: ‘Yes, they are thugs’ instead of ‘It is normal to get out in the streets for what you believe.’ [Trump] is trying to teach people a new behavior: ‘You just sit right where you are, read what I say and nod your head.’ That is the psychology of regime change.” . . .

For more of Snyder’s insights on history’s lessons and how to apply them to Trump, check out his 20-point guide on forms of resistance.

Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2017 at 10:55 am

Trump mocked Obama for three chiefs of staff in three years

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Julia Manchester has an article in The Hill:

President Trump’s decision to dismiss Reince Priebus as his chief of staff on Friday has drawn new attention to a past tweet criticizing former President Barack Obama for going through a number of chiefs of staff. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2017 at 10:39 am

Antica Barbiera Colla with the iKon Short Comb

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The Wee Scot had no trouble making or delivering a good lather this morning. I used the Short Comb again because I was testing its comfort, and it is comfortable but not quite so comfortable as some of my other razors, I have to admit.

Still, three passes delivered a smooth result free of problems, and a dot of the aftershave milk finished the job.

I have listed the stainless iKon dual-baseplate razor now on eBay.

Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2017 at 10:25 am

Posted in Shaving

The looting of America: The Trump administration wants to sell off portions of a vast system that produces nearly half of the nation’s hydropower electricity.

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Private prisons are money-makers, but with some drawbacks: as crime rates fall, prison revenue falls as well, so prison companies lobby for ways to fill the prisons: mandatory minimum sentences (guaranteeing a revenue stream for a fixed number of years per prisoner), three-strikes laws (lifetime revenue for three convictions, sometimes minor), more offenses designated as requiring a prison sentence, and the like. Private hospitals grow profits by cutting back on staff and services. (Nonprofit hospitals are not driven to increase profits.)

And now Trump wants to turn over to private, for-profit corporations significant portions of the taxpayer-built hydropower system. Kirk Johnson reports in the NY Times:

To ride down the Columbia River as the John Day Dam’s wall of concrete slowly fills the view from a tugboat is to see what the country’s largest network of energy-producing dams created through five decades of 20th-century ambition, investment and hubris.

Nearly half of the nation’s hydropower electricity comes from more than 250 hydropower dams that were built on the Columbia and its tributaries — a vast and complex arc of industry and technology that touches tens of millions of lives across the West every day.

Google taps the river’s energy to power a data center 90 minutes east of Portland, Ore. — drawn there by some of the cheapest, most environmentally friendly electricity in the nation. Farmers farther upriver in Washington State pump irrigation water into alfalfa fields — with both the water and the electricity supplied by a dam. The Space Needle in Seattle uses Columbia River electricity to slowly spin tourists in its sky-view restaurant. High-voltage transmission lines shoot south to California.

Now, the Trump administration has proposed rethinking the entire system, with a plan to sell the transmission network of wires and substations owned by the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal agency that distributes most of the Columbia basin’s output, to private buyers.

The idea is part of a package of proposals that would transform much of the infrastructure in the United States to a mixture of public and private partnerships, lowering costs to taxpayers and improving efficiency, administration officials said. Assets of two other big public power operators, based in Colorado and Oklahoma, would be sold, too, if Congress approves the measure.

Debates about government and its role in land and environmental policy are always highly charged. But perhaps nowhere could the proposed changes have a more significant impact than along the great river of the West — fourth largest by volume in North America, more than 10 times that of the Hudson. Privatization would transform a government service that requires equal standards across a vast territory — from large cities to tiny hamlets — into a private operation seeking maximum returns to investors.

Wringing profits from a system that has provided electricity at cost would inevitably raise prices, critics of the idea said, while supporters envision a streamlined grid open to innovations that government managers cannot imagine.

A New York Times reporter and photographer went down the river in June, bunking with a five-man tug crew over 30 hours as workers cooked their meals, rested between shifts and transited through four dams and locks. We were looking for the interconnections of electricity and navigation, private industry and government management, engineering and biology, and what is at stake in this new energy debate.

Those stakes start with the scale. Grand Coulee alone, the biggest dam on the river, ships power to 10 states and creates enough electricity to power all the households in Missouri for a year. The 12 million cubic yards of concrete it contains is enough to build a highway from Seattle to Miami.

The possible fate of that system is raising alarms for some, and questions for almost everyone whose life connects to the river.

“The uncertainty is the biggest thing of all: How would it work?” Terry Oxley, the captain of the tugboat, the Crown Point, said as he gazed out over the water, hands flicking the controls with practiced aplomb. Mr. Oxley, 63, has worked the tugs for 39 years.

“I guess I want more input,” he added. “Who’s going to control it? Who’s going to have the say so? When are they going to release the water, the flood control, the spill patterns for the fish? It’s such a big deal, and it’s all intertwined.” . . .

Continue reading.

If private corporations take over, the fish are doomed: fish don’t help profits, and costs will be cut.

Written by Leisureguy

28 July 2017 at 4:08 pm

Trump’s Dangerous Incitement of Police Violence

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James Fallows notes another milestone on the road to an authoritarian society: President Trump encouraging the police to treat citizens with violence (and they need little encouragement, it seems).

Today the president of the United States openly called on police officers to rough up suspects they were bringing into detention, half-an-hour into a speech in which he described as “animals” gangs of immigrants that were supposedly hunting down and sadistically cutting up “beautiful”  young Americans.

And the uniformed police officers around him, on Long Island, laughed and cheered.

This is not out of character for the “knock the crap out of him!” candidate of the campaign trail, or the “American carnage” man who exercises power.

But it is bad; it is not normal; it should be noticed; and law-enforcement officers and elected officials should point out that this is wrong.

After watching this, consider this post from Kevin Drum:

Earlier this year from the Wall Street Journal:

Overall crime fell to an all-time low in Long Island’s Suffolk County last year….The 19,877 crime incidents reported in 2016 were down 5.7% from the previous year’s 21,076 crime incidents and represented the fewest since the department began tracking them in 1975….Violent-crime incidents, including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, fell by 10.9%.

And this:

Crime in Long Island’s Nassau County fell to its lowest level in at least 50 years,according to statistics released Thursday….The Nassau County Police Department said the 26,153 crime incidents reported in 2016 were down nearly 2% from the previous year. Major-crime incidents, including murder, rape, robbery and assault, fell 9%.

And here is Donald Trump today speaking in Long Island:

View image on Twitter of Donald Trump: Peaceful Long Island neighborhoods have become “blood-stained killing fields,” says @POTUS. “They’re animals.”

I’m all in favor of taking down the MS-13 gang, although this is something that’s been a priority for many years already. But no, despite the presence of MS-13 on Long Island, it’s not a blood-stained killing field. In fact, it’s a pretty safe place that can boast of an all-time low crime rate. Trump, as usual, is just being Trump.

Written by Leisureguy

28 July 2017 at 3:56 pm

Petrified Forest: Fear is America’s top-selling consumer product.

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Lewis Lapham writes in Lapham’s Quarterly:

Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
—Franklin D. Roosevelt

Great self-destruction follows upon unfounded fear.
—Ursula K. Le Guin

Speaking to citizens of what in 1933 was still a democratic republic, Roosevelt sought to strengthen the national resolve in the depth of the Great Depression, “preeminently the time,” he said in his first inaugural address, to tell “the whole truth, frankly and boldly,” no need to “shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today.” His fellow countrymen took him at his word, and the national resolve proved strong enough to emerge from the Depression, in 1941–45 to win the war against Germany and Japan, in the years since to bring forth the wealthiest society and the most heavily armed nation-state known to the history of mankind.

Heroic resolve, but not heroic enough to surmount the innovative and entrepreneurial American genius for making something out of nothing and the equally innovative and entrepreneurial American genius for self-deception. The force of mind rooted in the soil of adversity didn’t take hold in the flower beds of prosperity; placed under the protective custody of the atomic bomb and sicklied o’er with the pale cast of money, the native hues of resolution lost the name of action.

Fear itself these days is America’s top-selling consumer product, available 24-7 as mobile app with color-coded pop-ups in all shades of the paranoid rainbow. Ready to hand at the touch of a screen, the turn of a phrase, the nudge of a tweet. Popularly priced at conveniently located checkpoints on drugstore and supermarket shelves, at airports and tanning salons. Diligently promoted by the news and fake news bringing minute-to-minute reports of America the Good and the Great threatened on all fronts by approaching apocalypse—rising seas and barbarian hordes, maniac loose in the White House, nuclear war on or just below the horizon. Our leading politicians and think-tank operatives shrink from both truth and falsehood, regard mental paralysis as the premium state of securitized being. Our schools and colleges provide safe spaces swept clean of alarming, unjustified speech, credit a rarefied awareness of nameless, unreasoning terror as evidence of superior sensibility and soul.

Not the outcome envisioned by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but the one raising the question addressed in this issue of Lapham’s Quarterly. How does it happen that American society at the moment stands on constant terror alert? In no country anywhere in the history of the world has the majority of a population lived in circumstances as benign and well-lighted as those currently at home and at large within the borders of the United States of America. And yet, despite the bulk of reassuring evidence, a divided but democratically inclined body politic finds itself herded into the unifying lockdown imposed by the networked sum of its fears—sexual and racial, cultural, social, and economic, nuanced and naked, founded and unfounded. Why and wherefrom the trigger warnings, and whose innocence or interest are they meant to comfort, defend, and preserve? Who is afraid of whom or of what, and why do the trumpetings of doom keep rising in frequency and pitch?

Fear itself doesn’t need the publicity. The oldest and strongest of the human emotions, awakened in the embryo fighting for breath in the birth canal, fear is nature’s free gift to all its sentient creations. The author Caroline Alexander credits the ancient Greeks with having many words for fear—almost as many as the Inuit have words for snow—and this issue of Lapham’s Quarterlydoesn’t lack for text and illustration of straightforward terror, nervous apprehension, panic that impels battle rout, shock that strikes dumb with amazement, horror that jabbers the teeth, trembles the limbs.

In my capacity as human being, I’ve met with most if not all of the descriptives handed down from antiquity, but in my profession as journalist, I’ve encountered primarily the distinctions between what Sigmund Freud in 1917 defines as real fear and neurotic fear, the former a rational and comprehensible response to the perception of clear and present danger, the latter “free-floating,” anxious expectation attachable to any something or nothing that catches the eye or the ear, floats the shadow on a wall or a wind in the trees. Real fear invites action, the decision to flee or fight dependent upon “our feeling of power over the outer world”; expectant fear induces states of paralysis, interprets every coincidence as evil omen, prophesizes the most terrible of possibilities, ascribes “a dreadful meaning to all uncertainty.”

I’m old enough to remember when Americans weren’t as easily persuaded to confuse the one with the other. In grammar school prior to the advent of the atomic bomb, I was taught that looking fear straight in the face was the root meaning of courage, told to learn from the example not only of Alexander the Great and Admiral Lord Nelson but also from the lives of Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln.  . .

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Written by Leisureguy

28 July 2017 at 2:49 pm

How a hydroponic tomato garden inspired cops to raid a family’s home

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I blogged this incident earlier from a Radley Balko column, but this report by Kyle Swenson seems clearer:

The police report would claim it all kicked off at 7:38 a.m., but Bob Harte later thought it had to be earlier.

His 7:20 a.m. alarm had just yanked him awake. Got to get the kids — a boy in seventh grade, a girl in kindergarten — ready for school. Then he heard, like a starter’s pistol setting everything into motion, the first pounding on the front door of his home in Leawood, Kan., a bedroom suburb south of Kansas City. It was thunderous. It didn’t stop. Should I get up? Bob thought. Should I not? Sounded like the house was coming down, he would recall later.

Wearing only gym shorts, the stocky 51-year-old left his wife in bed and shuffled downstairs. The solid front door had a small window carved at eye-level, one-foot-square. As he approached, Bob saw the porch was clogged with police officers. Immediately after opening the door, seven members of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) pressed into the house brandishing guns and a battering ram. Bob found himself flat on floor, hands behind his head, his eyes locked on the boots of the officer standing over him with an AR-15 assault rifle. “Are there kids?” the officers were yelling. “Where are the kids?”

“And I’m laying there staring at this guy’s boots fearing for my kids’ lives, trying to tell them where my children are,” Harte recalled later in a deposition on July 9, 2015. “They are sending these guys with their guns drawn running upstairs to bust into my children’s house, bedroom, wake them out of bed.”

Harte’s wife, Addie, bolted downstairs with the children. Their son put his hands up when he saw the guns. The family of four were eventually placed on a couch as police continued to search the property. The officers would only say they were searching for narcotics.

Addie had a thought: It’s because of the hydroponic garden, she told her husband, they are looking for pot. No way, Harte said, correctly reasoning marijuana wasn’t a narcotic. And all this for pot?

But after two hours of fruitless search, the officers showed the Hartes a warrant. Indeed, the hunt was for marijuana. Addie and Bob were flabbergasted — all this for pot?

“You take the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, all the rights you expect to have — when they come in like that, the only right you have is not to get shot if you cooperate,” Harte told The Washington Post this week. “They open that door, your life is on the line.” . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

28 July 2017 at 2:37 pm

Cedar morning with Meißner Tremonia’s Woody Almond and Anthony Gold’s Red Cedar

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The cedar component of Meißner Tremonia’s Woody Almond shaving paste changes the almond fragrance significantly, and the result is very nice indeed. The Wet Shaving Products Prince did a fine job, and I tried the iKon stainless with its bar-guard baseplate to see whether it would be more comfortable than the open-comb baseplate.

It wasn’t. No nicks, but just not so comfortable. Larry suggested in a comment that I try a Derby blade, so halfway through I swapped out the Personna Lab Blue for a new Derby Extra. For me, in this razor, it was no help. I think this razor with both its baseplates will soon go to eBay. It’s a good razor, but I have other razors that are for me more comfortable.

A good splash of Anthony Gold’s marvelous Red Cedar aftershave finished the job. Great result, but the process was not so good as with some of my other razors.

Written by Leisureguy

28 July 2017 at 9:21 am

Posted in Shaving

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